The Straits Times: More and cheaper organic veggies

The Straits Times reported that organic vegetables are now more affordable and more easily available than before. The story below.

More and cheaper organic veggies

More consumers are going ‘organic’, and supermarkets here are happy to oblige, while bringing prices down too.

Organic vegetables are grown without pesticides and other chemicals.

Pasar Organic – the housebrand organic range of supermarket chain NTUC FairPrice – now stocks white asparagus, sugar snap peas and chayote shoot.

By August, 27 other greens will be added, doubling the number of organic items under this house-brand. Cost savings can go up to 70 per cent less than the brand-name counterparts.

FairPrice reckons that demand for its organic greens has grown 25 per cent year on year since 2008, when the trend first took off.

Cold Storage and Jasons Market Place too have had organic vegetables on their shelves for some years.

Over the past two years, they have increased their range of organic vegetables by 30 per cent, with demand seeing year-on-year double-digit percentage point growth during that time.

One wholesaler, Zenxin Organic Food, a major organic greens supplier to supermarkets and restaurants, has seen a 20 per cent jump in sales over the past two years. It now sells 100 types of organic vegetables, up from 70 two years ago. Among the new items it has started importing are four-angled beans, silverbeets, kale, Swede and lemongrass.

‘Customers requested these items so we decided to bring them in,’ said the company’s director, Mr Tai Seng Yee, 28, who owns five farms in Malaysia.

He felt that the generally lower prices of such greens now have helped to spur demand. ‘Last time you could not get any organic vegetables for less than $2 per 250g. Now, you can,’ he said.

Mr Tai sells organic xiao bai cai at $1.99 for 250g, and sweet potato leaf at $1.80 for 250g. Two years ago, these items would have cost more than $2.

Mr Tng Ah Yiam, FairPrice’s managing director of group purchasing, merchandising and international trading, attributed the lower prices to increased supply from the region as a result of improved technology and the heightened demand.

‘Previously, many farmers in these places did not know how to get high-yield levels without using pesticide. Improved technology has changed that,’ he said. He added that increased demand encouraged more farmers to grow such crops. ‘The trend is really catching on. Consumers are now more educated and health-conscious.’

Consumers also benefit price-wise when more farmers in the region grow organic vegetables, since it is cheaper to transport vegetables from such areas than from farther-flung countries.

FairPrice pushes prices down even further for Pasar Organic by cutting down on middlemen. It goes straight to the source – 11 farms in Thailand, sweetened by long-term contracts.

The chain also helps the farms to source for organic seeds, increase their yield and transport their harvests to Singapore in air-conditioned trucks.

Pasar Organic also comes with its own certification label guaranteeing that the items are truly organic. Some rules: The farms in Thailand have to be about 10km away from industrial land, and organic produce must be packed in special containers away from non-organic ones.

The chain aims to stock its organic brand at 50 of its stores by 2013. It now stocks it at 30 stores, including all FairPrice Finest outlets, up from 20 in 2008.

Teacher Christine Teo, 24, started going organic a month ago.’I’ve read a lot about the harmful effects of pesticides and now it’s not as expensive as before. I pay just a little more, so why not?’ she said, adding that the recent food scares also played a part in her decision to go organic.

Others, like Madam Fang Qiu Li, 52, a civil servant, eat organic vegetables for health reasons and the added nutrition.

Experts, however, say this is a myth.

‘The term organic describes a method of production rather than the characteristics of the food,’ said Mr Lim Meng Thiam, a dietitian at the Health Promotion Board’s Adult Health Division.

‘There is no conclusive evidence that organic food is nutritionally superior to conventionally produced food.’

Image taken from CB Photography

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